Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Spark of Information Can Start a Fire

Hello, I'm Michelle, the lady of the house here.  Coureton will return for the next post =)  He asked me to write about what got me interested in food politics--and therefore homesteading--in the first place.

I had a rather unusual awakening in my first year of college.  I accidentally chose animal science as a major because my high-school councilor thought it was the same thing as zoology.  For the uninitiated, it's not--it's an agricultural major in which you learn everything there is to know about livestock.  Though I immediately switched my major to Biology, I was so interested in the course descriptions that I overloaded on credits to take them anyways--and did not regret that decision at all.

In the beginners classes, they take the students on field trips every week to visit local farms and see how they raise their livestock.  They cover cows and goats (both dairy, meat and the multi-purpose breeds), sheep, chickens...I *think* I remember a section on rabbits, but it was only briefly covered. There's also a livestock barn, where students get first-hand experience at all the various procedures.  One of my favorite extra-credit assignments was ultra-sounding the sheep to check for pregnancy.  Unfortunately, the program is focused on getting their students geared for industry jobs--I.E. including factory-scale farms--so I don't want people to get a pastoral idea of it. 

Throughout the class I had a strange nagging feeling that bothered me.  It was shame--shame that before I was so ignorant of where my food came from.  Ignorance about how it was slaughtered, what it was fed, the husbandry practices involved...It seems so obvious right?  Here I could tell you all about the food chain in the Alaskan tundra, about what eats who, and the method each species uses to procure food--and yet when it came to my own diet, my own section of the food chain, I was lost.  I knew ham comes from pigs and beef from cows, but I had no idea about the additives added afterwards, which cut is from where, or how the animal itself was fed. I'm generally an A student, and on the first couple of quizzes I got a C--such was the level of my ignorance that I thought I already knew all this and wouldn't need to study much. It's the worst kind of ignorance--the lack of realization that what you "know" is wrong.  Thankfully, I opened my eyes and began to learn.

Though afterward I adjusted my diet to be what some would call "flexitarian" I didn't really pursue the subject further for a couple years. Then I heard of a book called the Omnivore's Dilemma and thought it would be right up my alley.  Though I'm a slow reader, I read through it in the matter of a week.  Once again, I found myself fascinated by the subject, wondering how I could have ever put any of this information down.  I followed this with The Compassionate Carnivore, and between the two I wondered how I could have missed the connection between corn production and livestock, despite all my classes. Next I watched Food Inc, possibly the best documentary I've seen to date about food--and that's around when I turned to Coureton and said "I want to do something about what I eat."

I've always wanted to be vegetarian but despite research and planning I have not had much success.  I always end up sick, with ghastly bruises despite vitamins and iron supplements in addition to a balanced diet.  Just a small amount of meat fixes these issues, so for a long time I've been what one might call "mostly vegetarian." It's not that I thought that eating animals is inherently wrong, but that I could not justify the way it's done and cannot usually afford the better stuff.  Not only that, but I was surprised how intertwined animal welfare was with the care of our own environment--while puruit of animal welfare is certainly a noble goal in itself, the environmental impacts of the industry cannot be ignored. 

I wanted to do something more.  The idea came to raise our own food, and it stuck.  The more research we did, the more viable it became.  If you're wondering where to read about this subject yourself, here are some of my suggestions (this list is by no means inclusive, I'll be working on a much broader one for the site in the near future):

Documentaries (both available on Netflix):
Food Inc
King Corn
Jaimie Oliver's Food Revolution (available on Hulu)


In Defense of Food (it's basically a light, easier-to-read version of Omnivore's Dillema)
Omnivores Dillema
Compassionate Carnivore

And I strongly recommend going to your local farmer's market and talking about the subject with the local vendors--you'll get a wide variety of opinions and information about the politics local to you, and may learn about regulations you'd never heard of before.  To start a conversation, ask them about how their animals are raised and why--most people are only too happy to tell you!

I'm happy to hear suggestions for further research in the comments!  When I compile a list they'll be included =)


  1. Michelle!

    I had no idea you were so into this stuff! So great! I jsut saw your post on FB. David and I are bot hreally into eating better and knowing where our food comes from (though of course in china this becomes much more of a challenge). I've been vegetarian for over a year now and david's been veg about 15 years! we've watched and read so many inspiring sources about food production, including the ones you ahve listed. The most recent movie we watched was called "Forks Over Knives" about the potential harms of eating meat and dairy. it was mind open, mind-blowing in fact! It discusses how many people's diseases have completely disappeared by cutting out meat and dairy. it's incredible. anway, so glad i foound your blog and we should share more resources! David and I are extremely interested in homesteading when we return to the States and becoming more self-sufficient :) You're so greta Mish!! xoxo Laura

  2. The paths we follow surprise us often..sometimes its even pleasant.

    You guys are fortunate..and I wish you the best as you go onward.

    Glad you folks are sharing your experiences with others.